Meet the incredible people behind the work we do at C40 Cities

What motivated you to work in the climate space, and how did you become involved with C40?

Climate change is the single most complex and daunting challenge we face as a species. The fact that it does not respect boundaries is the clearest sign that we have to change how we are wired to think in terms of political, ethical, social and other types of boundaries.

I started to understand that when I worked in China in a China-Brazil climate research centre that focused on how developing countries could and should have a more active role in solving the climate crisis through a lens of climate justice. However, in that role, I also saw how negotiations at the national level are still framed in an “us versus them” mindset.

Cities, on the other hand, tend to dismiss the geopolitical tensions and focus more on cooperation and collaboration to solve practical problems, and C40 seemed to be built to tap into that potential to solve the climate crisis. So, when I saw the opportunity to join C40 almost eight years ago, I didn’t think twice. Five days after turning in my MSc dissertation in London, I was happily and anxiously entering Rio City Hall as C40 City Adviser for my first day of work.

Ilan Cuperstein (left) with global C40 colleagues at the C40 World Mayors Summit 2022 in Buenos Aires

What’s an accomplishment that you are proud of in your work with C40?

One particular achievement that I’m proud of is the launch of the solar plant in the Caximba landfill in Curitiba. I was able to work with the city for five years, in three different roles – as C40 Clean Energy Network Manager, Deputy Regional Director and finally as Regional Director – from the initial ideation of the project, based on what the Mayor of Curitiba called his dream, to have a “solar pyramid”, all the way to the launch a few weeks ago after broad support from the C40 Cities Finance Facility during the second round of the programme. 

It was truly inspiring to see how a city, with the political leadership of the mayor and the technical and personal commitment of city officials, was able to implement the first project of its kind in Latin America.

What upcoming initiatives is C40 working on that you are excited about?

I am quite excited about the launch of the Zero Emission Freight Programme, which I’m sure will follow the successful path of the ZEBRA partnership in supporting cities in the region to decarbonise their transport system, now focusing on freight. We are currently building what I’m sure will be a brilliant team, and there will be a lot of exciting things ahead in a new area of work for C40 in the region. 

The fact that this is a regional programme and one of the first to include inclusive climate action as one of its core bases from the outset makes me more excited for the next steps.

How do you balance your personal and professional life?

My one-year-old son grounds me and shows me every day that there is a limitless and beautiful world to explore away from work. Through his eyes and demanding cries for attention, I am duly reminded to enjoy some time playfully exploring the trees in the nearest park or jumping waves in the sea.

I also try to go walking for at least 15 minutes in every city I visit to try and soak in a bit of the local pace, the smell of the street food, the slang of the street vendors and all the other small details that make each city a unique ever-changing mosaic.

19 May is ‘Bike to Work Day’ – if you could ride your bike anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

I would ride my bike to Lençois Maranhenses, a beautiful natural park in Northeast Brazil that seems to be on another planet. It is a park composed of white sand dunes next to the ocean that have on the other side of every dune a natural and translucent pool of freshwater.

Unfortunately, the only way to enter the park is in jeeps, which have a big environmental impact on that fragile environment. When I was there, I really wished there was a way to enter the park by bike.

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